Friday, December 19, 2014

Sing Us a Song, You're the Cameraman

Been a while since I've actually sat down to watch a whole movie.  This time, it was the Buster Keaton classic, The Cameraman.  Of course, it's not The General or The Navigator, but it's got some good stuff in it.  The story's quite simple, really.  A "portrait" photographer wants to win the love of a girl, but she works at the MGM News Reel Department... I should probably point out that this was Buster's first feature at MGM, and that he apparently said that signing on with MGM was the worst mistake of his life.  Also, William Randolph Hearst had a little bit riding on the outcome of this feature, so that's two strikes against it.  But Buster's vision manages to creep through, as well as some rather noticeable tinges of Malthusian ennui!  Well, that's what he gets for filming partly in New York.  Apparently, those two or three scenes were enough to inspire several other scenes where Buster has to hack his way through a thicket of aggressive people trying to get on the bus, into a taxi, what have you.
At its core, it's a love story with even less complexity than The General, but frankly, Buster's getting a little too old to play these strictly lovesick cases.  He trades in his old still camera for an old motion picture camera and hangs around the girl's workplace... and breaking the glass in the door a lot.  Kinda like in that Three Stooges film, Men in Black!  (that came five years later)  As with Stooge films, there seem to be a lot of scenes here that are stretched out to make the movie more feature length-y.  Take that scene where Buster and the other fella are using the same dressing room to switch into their swimming clothes... thereby inspiring the film Berth Marks.  Also, look fast for a young, but still quite rotund, Vernon Dent, who would of course become a staple of Stooge films.
My favourite setpiece, of course, is the one where with the cutaway shot of the building with its five flights of stairs.  That must've been a trip to work on.  It inspired similar scenes in, among other things, a part of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the mistitled Popeye cartoon Cops Is Always Right.
At some point during the proceedings, Buster acquires a pet monkey.  Screenwriters take note of this, as how this plot device is ultimately used is nothing short of genius... if a bit hokey.  Buster also takes a nice satirical swipe at power boats.  So all in all, still worth a look.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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